Just an ordinary car park in an ordinary city 35 years ago. Yet who wouldn’t want to take a wander through these rows?
Normally in these features, we like to pluck a particular location and show how the cars of the era fitted into that landscape. Not this time though. This is Peterborough railway station car park, taken from the neighbouring Queensgate shopping centre multi-storey. But it could be anywhere in the UK in 1981; a fascinating snapshot, with no intruding architectural distractions, of the diversity of cars that typically inhabited urban environs of this time. It’s a lovely mix of old and new, big and small, British and foreign, battered and pristine, good and, um, not-quite-so-good, and even front- and rear-engined machines.
Where to start with this cocktail of classic curios then? Well, let’s take it from the top. The row on the right is headed by one of British Leyland’s finest, an Austin Allegro. It’s a Series 1 four-door saloon, dating from 1973-75 – we can just make out the glint of the chrome cartoon script ‘Allegro’ badge on the left-hand side of the bonnet. Sadly, the quality of 1980s’ film stock means we can’t quite make out if it’s still got its original and infamous Quartic steering wheel correctly in place.
Next is a Chrysler or Talbot Sunbeam – an old Rootes marque being recycled as a model name. Despite Petula Clark melodically urging everybody to ‘Put a Chrysler Sunbeam in your life’ at the car’s 1977 launch, Peugeot killed it off just four years later, after the French firm took over Chrysler’s European operations and closed the Linwood plant near Glasgow where it was made.
Its neighbour is a Morris Marina estate, unusually with a white vinyl roof. An obligatory Mini is next, probably an early to mid-1970s example as there’s a British Leyland badge on the wing and the chrome grille and bumpers haven’t yet turned black.
Adjacent to it, two Vauxhalls are sandwiching a basic spec Austin miniMetro (with recessed headlamps), which would have been almost new. So would the Astra to its right – like the Metro, the model only debuted in 1980. The Chevette isn’t that old either, as it looks to be a limited edition 1980 Lux, in Orange Tan and Hazel Brown, with a walnut veneer dash inside. These variants were put together by Star Cars of Ampthill, which started out doing London dealer specials before being given the gig by Vauxhall to produce SEs for the national market.
We’ve a Citroën 2CV and four-door Triumph Toledo next, along with a very rare Fiesta indeed. It’s a MkI Sandpiper, just 2500 of which were released in December 1979. Based on the 1.1L, most came with Roman Bronze over Cordoba Beige paint and Ghia-spec seats.
Peterborough has a large Italian community, which could explain why three Fiats appear to have banded together for safety. The tiny 127 is conforming to marque stereotype by showing blossoming corrosion on the doors and bottom of the rear wings, but its two Series II 128 bigger sisters seem in better nick.
Moving up the left-hand row now, there’s another Chevette, this time a pre-1976 facelift example with recessed headlamps. The neighbouring Cortina MkIII estate is just glorious – a patchwork quilt of rust repairs. It can’t have been any older than 11 years, yet its condition is woeful. It’s either had a very hard life, or was built on a Friday afternoon. Whatever the case, it probably didn’t survive too much longer…
Hopefully, the basic MkI Morris Mini-Minor won’t have caught tinworm from it, because it would be worth a lot these days, even with its leopardskin seat covers. Then comes a MkV Ford Cortina L and a Triumph Stag missing its front bumper. Was it removed to give the V8 al fresco cruiser extra attitude, or had it simply fallen off?
The adjoining spaces are occupied by a VW Golf MkI and Vauxhall Cavalier MkI, the hint of Rostyle wheel on the latter suggesting a better-appointed example. The Audi 100 C2 would still have been quite exotic for 1981, unlike the third generation Morris Marina coupé, even given its alluring black vinyl roof. Still, it would have been more exciting than the Volvo 343 keeping it company. In between it and its five-door 345 sister at the top of the row are a Hillman Imp and an Austin miniMetro HLS, the range-topper until the Vanden Plas of 1982.
Thirty-five years later, would you find this sort of variety in a modern view? Our 2016 comparison shot (left) definitively answers that question…